Monday, 20 February 2017

And so on to that frustrating fog

The Safari met up with the Community Arts team again on Saturday to do a bit of a history talk followed by a wander round the park to see what we could see. They had all sorts of activities planned too, one of which was 'seed bombing' and we were to look out for a suitable area for their wetland mix of seeds during our walk.
Filling a seed bomb - more like a seed scatterer actually
As with Thursday's event we were on the look out for interestingly shaped and/or patterned trees. We found a large Small Leaved Lime tree we didn't know was in there, it was a giant but the trunk forked too low down to be able to do the measuring the age with a tape measure trick. Hawthorns often have good bark and trunk shapes, these two are right by the children's play area.
Did you spot the litter between the trees? fortunately some of the group were armed with bags and pickers so it was collected along with quite a lot of other rubbish that had been strewn about. Why are we so messy??????
The park was probably laid out in the early 1920s but few of the original trees remain, perhaps the big Lime and a few Sycamores, there were likely to have been Elms but these have long since succumbed to Dutch Elm Disease. From measurements of some of the other trees we'd guess they were about the same age as us being planted in the late 50's or early 60s. More recent planting has taken place too, like this Jubilee Wood from which Jubilee we're not sure and even more recently in the year or so there have been some groups of trees planted under the Woodlands From Waste scheme.
The wooded future of the park looks rosy!
At the wettest point we tore away at the thatch of grasses, bring a rake would have been a good idea, to reveal about a square metre of clear soil on to which the youngest member of our group sprinkled her seed bomb. We all helped press the seeds in by gently trampling the ground and then hoped for rain. Wit ha bit of luck more similar patches would be done in the afternoon to create a nice colourful area buzzing with bees and butterflies later in the year, or probably next year.
The end point of our walk was a half buried lump of 13500 year old Bog Oak which was dug up when the field was tried to be drained. The Arts group had heard about it and as a piece of local history wanted to lift it from its dumped area and display it on a plinth with some interpretation for all to see.
It wasn't buried as badly as we thought, just covered with a good growth of grass which was soon pulled off. It was however a lot longer than we realised.
Never the less with a bit of muscle and teamwork it was soon released from it's grassy grip. As it was lifted off the ground we saw our first Frog of the year.
Turning it over to find out how much it had started to rot on the underside revealed a horde of hibernating Yellow Slugs, Limacus flavus
They weren't too happy about being woken from their slumbers and slithered off to find somewhere else to lay their heads.
After a little pulling and shoving, puffing and panting the Bog Oak was wrested on to a couple of smaller pieces to keep it clear of the ground so it could dry out properly. The local rugby team who play on the field from which it originally came will lift it to its final resting place near their clubhouse. Where it will get a more detailed permanent sign too.
Mission accomplished and all good fun.
On Sunday we set off back over the river in an attempt to mop up some of the species we missed last weekend and went a little further to find some more. We had to stop of the marshland car park again and in the field at the entrance there was a flock of about 100 Pink Footed Geese.
At the very back of the flock we're sure we got a fleeting glimpse of a Barnacle Goose with them, but we waited and waited and waited much to Monty's impatience but it never showed again, if indeed it was ever there in the first place...why are the odd-balls always at the back of the flock when we look???
From there we headed to the northernmost point of our day out, the little estuary with the creeks. Here we had a walk along the old railway-line passing an unseen Goldcrest and a couple of Chaffinches in the hedge, the tide was well out so the river was out of range of our bins and camera.
Moving round to the pool we had cracking close up views of a Curlew and a couple of pairs of Teal.
With not much else on the pool we had a look in the creeks. Here there was a good assortment of birds, Shelducks, Teal, Wigeon, a couple of Black Tailed Godwits (102), a lot of Redshanks but no sign of the hoped for Spotted Redshank. A heavy drizzle was beginning to fall so we moved around the lanes to find some wild swans which we soon did. We'd heard there was a flock of about 400 Whooper Swans in the area with a few Bewick's Swans mixed in but before we found them we came across a much smaller herd of Whooper Swans (103) some distance across a large field. we stopped and pointed the camera out of the window.
It was just as well as a few bends further down the lane we saw the large flock miles away across the fields and without a scope we'd had no chance of looking through them. On we went to the marsh where by now a think mist was settling over the river and snaking its way towards us. We saw a Collared Dove that didn't sit long enough for our Year Bird Challenge and had to drag half a rotting Shelduck from Monty's gullet - yuk!!!
With the river still low there weren't many birds close up to shore and with the wet gloom rapidly approaching we didn't want to stay out too long and get the camera soaked so we fired off a few shots at a group of Black Tailed Godwits. Just another 'banker' really, we should get much better and closer pics of them in full summ plum later in the spring.
The rest of the afternoon was spent driving along lanes through dense fog not seeing much at all apart from the odd suicidal Blackbird darting across the road in front of the car at the very last minute. We expected the Lesser Snow Goose to be where it had been all week but could hardly see the field and only saw one Grey Lag Goose, we later learned it had moved half a mile or so away - cruel, so another trip over the river will be needed.
We decided to give the dipped last week Black Redstart a miss too as we'd arranged to meet GB (not the Aussie one!) for a bit of a walk with Monty who he's not met yet.
On the way we briefly stopped off at the nature reserve that is really just a dogs' toilet in the hope of seeing either or both of the Glaucous Gulls that have been frequenting the adjacent tip, we could barely see the river or the tip so gave up on that one and went to pick up GB.
A few minutes later were were walking to the point along the prom and stopped to look at the sign about the pebbles on the beach. now GB was a geologist and the next half hour was spent on the beach having a good close look at many of the fascinating pebbles there. We were careful to keep Monty away from the roosting 40 or so Ringed Plovers we could just about see about 50 yards away through the murk.
It must have been a low murk as we could hear a couple of Skylarks (104) singing over the golf course behind us. Actually its not year bird 104 as we'd neglected to put one flying over the garden (Garden #16)  on our spreadsheet on 5th of Feb.
With both of us getting hungry we took GB home and set off Base Camp. Once ensconced at the computer downloading our day's pics we spotted we'd got a bonus Bewick's Swan (105, YBC #80)
Where to next? Dunno yet but we do hope the heating engineer comes soon as it's freezing in here with the boiler on the blink - hope it's not terminal it is a bit of an old thing...
In the meantime let us know who's hiding in plain sight in your outback.

Sunday, 19 February 2017

A busy week followed by frustrating fog

The Safari had a few opportunities to look at the sea this week but there wasn't much doing. On Thursday we joined up with a local Community Arts group to see what natural materials and things wild we could find for their project. We started off at the chapel at the entrance to the old cemetery 
We measured some trees, finding out their age with a tape measure and a clever piece of card and a friend to discover their height. One some of the trees have had a garnish of bat boxes placed around them.
Anywhere where there's old(ish) trees we look for faces in them. This one's probably no the best we'll ever find.
Beneath the trees we found a few fresh fungi coming up through the grass.
We found a Holly tree which had been attacked, like almost all Holly trees, by the Holly Leaf Miner fly. This one has hatched rather than the larva within the leafbeen predated or parasitised.
Well if we've got Holly, there must be Ivy nearby.
Ivy has lots of good shapes, patterns and forms
And there even some berries left for the birds. 
The group we were with were trying to identify the trees from their twigs and buds. So what's this one folks?
Close by was an Ash tree with its distinctive chocolate brown buds and flattened twigs. So for a bit of a clue we told them the old adage about which of the pairs' leaves coming out first will determine if we have a splash of a summer or  a soak of a summer to come. No sign of any leaves on either of the trees yet.
A nice Wild Cherry tree stood all gnarly on the intersection of to of the avenues.
Some trees around the cemetery have had to be felled and they have left some interesting stumps like this one with a big see-through hole in it, possibly the reason why it was felled.
Along with twig collecting our group were also doing some bark rubbing. Another one for you, what;s this snap from?
A very pleasant couple of hours out. On the way back to the office we stopped off at the waste depot but there wasn't a single gull on the roof.
The following day we were entertaining a half-term holiday group rockpooling on the beach, our first of the year. We thought we'd best do a recce to see the lie of the land - well the sand anyways - and what was about. Good job we did as we found a huge tangle of fishing line with a massive hook in it right where the children would be exploring and no doubt their eagle eyes would have been attracted to the bright colour.
We put it out of reach but somewhere we could show them and tell them about the dangers of marine litter. Then we spotted something else in the pool. On closer inspection it was a large bullet! Where'd that come from?
Having seen corroded live ordnance before we thought it best to call the police. They came and took it his pocket, so much for it being unstable and deadly dangerous!
With the beach all safe and well the kids came and had a great time. A flock of about 100 Pink Footed Geese flew over but they didn't notice they were concentrating too much on hat was around their feet.
Tiny hands soon filled our tubs with all manner of goodies gleaned from the pools and sands.
 Catch of the day was left to us, with this Dab.
Actually we cheated as we knew where it was because it was buried in the sand attached to the fishing line we collected earlier. We' cut the line but there was no chance of removing the hook so we don't reckon much for its chances. When we let it go the children were fascinated watching it wriggle to bury itself.
The enjoyed that more than the fossils we found them, Crinoids aren't as impressive as dinosaurs even if they are much older
After work we took Monty to the park and had a surprise on the way in the form of a couple of rather early 'blooms' of Meadow Foxtail, anyone else seen any spring grasses in flower yet? Sorry about the grotty pic it was almost dark and a  bit breezy.
Far more expected in mid-February are the Snowdrops in blossom around the base of several of the trees.
Where to next? Our bad hands have got tired of typing so we'll have to tell you about more community fun and all that frustrating fog next time.
In the meantime let us know who's very early in your outback.

Sunday, 12 February 2017

Still a bit dull, damp and dreary

The Safari hasn't seen much on Patch 2 during the week, the garden feeders remain totally untouched despite there being flocks of about 50 Greenfinches and 25 Goldfinches roosting nearby. Even the Peregrine on the tower has become a little unpredictable.
A visit to the nature reserve for a look round before a meeting saw Monty there for the first time, which curtailed our birding a little. The best bird we came across was the Barn Owl (94, MMLNR #39) on its usual window ledge at dusk. The only pic we took to add to our species tally for our Year Bird Challenge was this grotty attempt at a few Wigeon (YBC # 70) in the gloom.
On Saturday Wifey had family duties so we were able to take Monty on a more serious birding safari. We decided to take him north over the river with a few target species to aim for. We parked up and walked along the little promenade. The tide was up but on its way down but hadn't covered the little saltmarsh. No sign of target one along there so we walked to the tiny ferry terminal and had a look around the new posh apartment block for target species number two. It wasn't giving itself up either. We did spot three gentlemen crouched down at the top of the slip with big lenses pointing at something on the very small tide line. Target species one was there, about two dozen of them, Twite (95, YBC #71) and so we tied Monty to a nearby post so he could see what we were doing and joined the 'throng'. Gloomy with drizzle in the air but our pics weren't too bad.
Pleased with these pics as it's a species we somehow managed to avoid last year. 
From there we had wander down to the golf course hoping to see an Eider in the river mouth, there weren't any today. A quick look around the apartments, yet again there was no sign of target two, the Black Redstart. Back to the car we went, spotting a Little Egret and a pair of Shelducks feeding close in to the prom. The egret disappeared down one of the many little creeks not to be seen again leaving us the Shelducks (96, YBC #72). The dire conditions didn't do their fabulous plumage any favours.
Plenty of Redshanks and Sanderlings were on the mud but no Knots which we could have been grateful for although we shouldn't have too much trouble catching up with them somewhere before the year is out...Famous last words??? Once in the car we drove down to the slipway for a last look for the Black Redstart, several other birders were there but hadn't even come across the Twite, where had they nicked off to?
With no joy we headed inland passing the first farmland feeding station as there were already three cars parked up so no chance of squeezing in a fourth. Around the bend we saw a couple of Stock Doves (97) fly over the hedge in front of us. We had the second feeding station to ourselves and parked as close down the track as we dared needing to be at an angle to point the lens out of the window, in the Land Rover this wouldn't have been a problem but Monty hasn't been trained in hauling stuck cars out of the muddy edges of farm tracks. We did get a few pics of the farmland specialities. There were a lot of Chaffinches and Tree Sparrows but our eyes were peeled for even more colourful fare. First up though was the very common, although perhaps declining a little, Collared Doves (YBC #73)
Nice but not colourful enough, we were hoping for something a little brighter, when all of a sudden there were three of them. You really can't beat a Yellowhammer (98, #YBC #74) what a shame they have disappeared from much of our countryside. How could we let something so bright and cheery go?
And if we struggle with something 'pretty' what chance does something 'dull and boring' have? Like this Corn Bunting (99, YBC #75)
Actually there's been a bit of good news regarding Corn Buntings from Scotland where farmers have joined together to provide better habitat and very importantly late winter seed to provide sufficient food through the 'hungry period' of late winter and early spring. See the full story here 
No Stock Doves turned up here though. Returning to the first feeding station we did manage to squeeze in but there wasn't anything on the seed so we continued round the corner to see if we could find the goose flock. Easily done just stop by the the gang with the scopes parked up on the roadside.
One of the lads was kind enough to give us a look through his scope at the Red Breasted Goose (100). It had been hard to spot being right at the back of the flock which was spread across several fields and was spending most of its time down a little dip out of sight. The only way to try to get a pic was take lots of shots across the whole flock in that area. At one time something spooked them and all their heads went up - time to hit the shutter button! 
Well we got a few of the White Fronted Geese (101, YBC #76) that were in with the thousand or more Pink Footed Geese, but the diminutive Red Breasted Goose mustn't have had a long enough neck to clear the dip from where it was stood as there was no sign of it in any of our pics.
Why can't the odd ones out be at the front of the flock when we go a-goosing? These were only a couple of hundred yards away over the roadside hedge...There's still a dip in the field though, no doubt had the RBG been with this group it would have been hiding in that dead ground all the time we were there!
Time was pushing on now and Monty needed a bit of a run so we went to the furthest point of our journey and let him our at the car park overlooking the big saltmarsh. The tide was now well out so no birds were close in. We took him for a walk around the pond which was quite apart from a pair of Tufted Ducks and an unseen calling Moorhen. Once he'd had a good run round and a bit of play with a couple of other dogs we headed back to Base Camp but took the minor detour to the first feeding station. This time there wasn't a car in sight but as we pulled up the birds on the seen, mostly Stock Doves and Woodpigeons, we waited a long time for them to return but they didn't. Turning round it was time to go but only a few hundred yards down the lane we spotted a Buzzard sat on the remains of a bale over the hedge. We stopped and reversed and got the camera through the window, even though it was only mid-afternoon it was really gloomy, too gloomy for pics really. OK it's identifiable so Buzzard (YBC #77) goes into the album.
Hopefully we'll be able to swap it for a better, clearer pic taken in daylight sooner rather than later.
All in all not a bad day out on safari.
We didn't get a chance to get out on Sunday.
Where to next? Patch 2 at lunchtime or maybe the waste depot, what a great place to enjoy your butties.
In the meantime let us know who's hiding down a hole in your outback.